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Macondo History Before the Blowout

Macondo History Before the Blowout

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Published by: zerohedge on Jul 05, 2010
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Macondo History Before the Blowout
By: CEOoftheSOFAJuly 4, 2010This history of the Macondo well blowout has been assembled using information fromthe Oil & Gas Journal and the Houston Chronicle, two of the more reliable sources ofinformation on the oil and gas industry.The information released to the public on the cause of the blowout has been insufficient.BP is unwilling to release information due to the liability issues. The federal governmenthas much information that it is not releasing. I have assembled as much reliableinformation as I could and tried to make a reasonable guess as to the cause of theblowout. My opinion on the cause differs from the views of the popular press.
History of the Macondo well
The Macondo well is an exploratory well, in search of a new oil field at a water depth of4992 ft. The well was estimated to require 51 days to drill at a cost of $96 million.The well was spudded on October 7, 2009 by the Transocean Marianas. The drilling rigwas damaged in Hurricane Ida on Nov. 8-9 and was towed to a shipyard on November26 for repairs. The Transocean Horizon rig resumed drilling when they landed the BOPstack on February 8, 2010.The well experienced four well control events. A well control event is when formationfluids (oil, gas, water) enter the wellbore, also known as a “kick”. These events occurredon Feb. 17-23, March 2-5, March 8-14, and April 4-7. The primary method of detectinga kick is to measure increases of drilling mud volume in the mud tanks. Typically, whenthis is observed, the pipe rams on the blow-out preventer are closed. The pipe ramsseal around the drill pipe. The mud flow exiting the well is directed through a chokevalve which is partially closed to increase the surface pressure. This increases thebottom hole pressure and prevents further influx of formation fluids into the wellbore.The formation fluids are then circulated out of the well while increasing the mud weightby adding barite to the drilling mud. When the mud weight is increased, it is no longernecessary to hold back pressure with the choke valve. At this point, drilling can resume.A synthetic, oil based drilling mud was used. At the completion of the drilling, the mudweight was 14 pounds per gallon (ppg). This equates to a formation pressure of 13,366pounds per square inch (psi).The well was drilled to a total depth of 18,360 ft. A tapered string of production casingconsisting of 7” and 9-5/8” casing was run from the total depth of the well to the surface.The casing was cemented by Halliburton. The purpose of the cement is to seal outformation fluids. When the well is ready to be put on production, holes will be perforatedinto the casing to allow oil and gas to enter the wellbore.The following table is a summary of the casing program:
Outside Depth Depth CementCasing Casing Casing YieldDiameter Bottom Top top Weight Type Strength (burst)
Inches feet feet feet ppf psi
36 5312 0 N/A *
* Casing is jetted in mud 
28 6217 0 506722 7937 0 5067 224 X-8018 8969 7900 8040 117 P-11016 11585 0 10500 97 P-110 30,00013-5/8 13145 11585 12100 88.2 Q-125 31,00011-7/8 15103 13145 13760 71.8 Q-125 25,0009-5/8 17168 15103 15934 62.8 Q-125 22,0007 - 9-7/8tapered 18303 0 17300 7" - 32 Q-1259-7/8" -62.8 Q-125TD 18360Rupture disks at 9560, 8304, and6047This represents a very aggressive casing program and is the primary reason the welldrilling was behind schedule. The casing program was increased in response to the fourwell control events. The well is encased in steel down to a depth of 17,168 ft. The wellis currently flowing behind the 7” production casing, so the three lower liners and the 16”casing are exposed to the oil flow. The 9-5/8” liner is the weak point with a yield strengthof 22,000 psi which is 9,000 psi greater than the shut-in reservoir pressure. The well istherefore capable of withstanding the shut-in reservoir pressure if the well were shut in.After the cement job of the production casing, the next task was to temporarily plug thewell by setting several cement plugs in the well. This is done by running drillpipe andtubing to several different depths and spotting cement plugs. Prior to doing this, it wasnecessary to replace the oil based drilling mud with sea water, since the drilling mudwould contaminate the cement. Seawater weighs about 5 ppg less than the drilling mud,and would not exert sufficient hydrostatic pressure on the oil formation to prevent fluidflow into the wellbore. If the cement were holding properly, it would not matter if thehydrostatic pressure were high enough since the cement should have sealed the well.There was a difference of opinion on the rig concerning the results of the pressure teststhat were run to evaluate the cement job. A meeting was held at 1:00 PM on April 20,between the BP head drilling engineer and the lead Transocean engineer. It is notknown what they were arguing about, but it is likely they were arguing over the results ofthe pressure tests. Apparently, the Transocean engineers thought the results showedthat formation fluids were entering the wellbore due to a failed cement job, but they wereoverruled by the head BP drilling engineer who made the decision to continue. (One ofthe Transocean people was heard saying “well at least we have the BOP’s”, after leavingthe meeting.) At 7:50 PM a pressure test was performed after which BP incorrectlyconcluded that formation fluids were not entering the wellbore. However, right afterthat, personnel on the rig floor reported that the fluid rate exiting the well was greaterthan the fluid rate entering the well. At 9:00, gas began coming out of the riser. Despitethis, the pumping of seawater did not stop until 9:31. The gas ignited at 9:49 and theentire rig was engulfed in flames. The blind shear rams on the blowout preventers werenot closed until after this. These rams should shear the drill pipe and completely sealthe well. 8,300 feet of drill pipe was then dropped into the 18,360 ft well. The blindshear rams only partially sealed the well. Because of the bad cement job, the well is
now flowing outside the 7 inch production casing. The well pressure is now beingexerted on the three lower liner strings and the 16” casing which was set at a depth of11,585 ft.
BP took several shortcuts which may have compromised the integrity of the well.1. A cement bond log was not run. The usual practice is to run a cement bond logto evaluate the effectiveness of the cement job. Schlumberger was on site to runthe cement bond log, but BP decided not to run one, presumably to save the 12hours it would take to run it. Pressure tests were run instead, but wereinconclusive.2. A lockdown sleeve was not used in the wellhead seal assembly for theproduction casing. This could cause the seal to unseat if there is upwardmovement of the casing, allowing fluid to enter the riser. Upward movement isnormal as the casing expands when the temperature increases during theproduction of formation fluids.3. Only 261 bbl of mud was circulated prior to the cement job, which is far short ofthe usual 1.5 times the hole volume that is recommended by the API. Thepurpose of this is to clean the hole of debris and formation fluids, to improve theintegrity of the cement job. This also saved 12 hours of time.4. BP has been criticized for running production casing instead of a liner. The linerwould have been sealed inside the next higher liner which would have given anadditional seal to prevent migration of formation fluids. The liner could have thenbeen tied back to the surface. As it is now, the well is producing oil and gas frombehind the production casing.5. There was testimony that BP only used 6 centralizers instead of therecommended 21 on the production casing. Centralizers cost about $100 eachand take about 2 minutes to install. Centralizers keep the casing in the middle ofthe hole to improve the cement bond.The popular press has focused on these shortcuts as the ultimate cause of the blowout,and that these shortcuts were taken just to save money. These 5 items together onlysaved one or two days of rig time, or about a million dollars. The press has charged thatBP ordered these short cuts because the well was behind schedule and over budget. Idon’t buy it. It is not uncommon for exploratory wells to be over budget. They shouldhave been happy that they had a discovery.I don’t think the fault should be focused only on the failed blowout preventer or the badcement job. Bad cement jobs happen occasionally without resulting in burned rigs.Blowout preventers are supposed to be activated
the rig is engulfed in flames. Ithink the key cause of the blowout is simple human error (SHE) on the part of the BPhead drilling engineer, who did not notice that the well was kicking. The well was likelykicking all afternoon and evening, and no one noticed until gas was coming out of theriser. It is inexcusable to allow this to go unnoticed for such a long time. All drillingengineers must be certified in well control. An annual class must be taken, with a writtentest and a test on a rig simulator. The primary thrust of the class is to determine when awell is kicking.

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